Category Archives: Technology

Mar 28 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 28

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CDC: 1 in 68 U.S. Children on Autism Spectrum
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has significantly increased its estimates of the number of U.S. children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). According to a new surveillance summary report, approximately 1 in 68 children—or 14.7 per 1,000 eight-year-olds—are on the spectrum. The new estimate is about 30 percent higher than previous CDC estimates. The report also found that ASD continue to be five times more common among boys than girls; more common among white children than Black of Hispanic children; and that most children are still not diagnosed until after age 4, despite the fact that ASD can be diagnosed as early as age 2. “The number of children identified with autism continues to increase and the characteristics of these children have changed over time,” said Coleen A. Boyle, PhD, MS, director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, in a release. “While progress has been made, there is an urgent need to continue the search for answers and provide help now for people living with autism.” Read more on pediatrics.

New Cancer Cases Dropped Slightly from 2009 to 2010
Rates of new cancer cases dropped slightly for both men and women in the United States from 2009 to 2010, according to the new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, Invasive Cancer Incidence—United States, 2010. The report saw the incidence rate drop to 446 per 100,000 persons from 459 per 100,000 persons. Rates varied by state, from a high of 511 to a low of 380. The rate was higher for men than it was for women, with the highest rate of all among black Americans. Read more on cancer.

HHS Releases New Security Risk Assessment Tool for Small-to-Medium-Sized Health Care Organizations
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released a new security risk assessment (SRA) tool to help health care providers in small-to-medium sized offices conduct risk assessments of their organizations. A collaborative effort of the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the tool enables the organizations to conduct and document a thorough risk assessment at their own pace by allowing them to assess the information security risks under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rule. The SRA tool’s website contains a User Guide and Tutorial video to help providers begin using the tool. Videos on risk analysis and contingency planning are available at the website to provide further context. The tool is available for both Windows and operating systems and iOS iPads. Read more on technology.

Mar 21 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 21

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Study Finds Dramatic Increase in Opioid Prescriptions by Emergency Rooms
The past decade has seen a dramatic increase in opioid analgesic prescriptions by emergency rooms, despite only a modest increase in pain-related complaints, according to a new study in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine. Using data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS) from 2001 and 2010, researchers found that there was a 49 percent increase in prescriptions for potentially addictive narcotic painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. Approximately 12 million Americans abused prescription painkillers in 2010 and approximately 15,000 die annually due to overdoses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on prescription drugs.

Study: Many Chronically Ill Adults Forced to Decide Between Medicine, Food
Chronically ill adults who due to financial instability lack consistent access to food are far more likely to underuse or even skip their medications completely, according to a new study in The American Journal of Medicine. Researchers analyzed data of 9,696 adults with chronic illness who participated in the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), finding that 23.4 percent reported cost-related medication underuse, while 18.8% percent reported food insecurity and 11 percent reported both. Hispanic and non-Hispanic blacks were at the highest risk. "The high overall prevalence of food insecurity and cost-related medication underuse highlights how difficult successful chronic disease management in the current social environment is," said lead investigator Seth A. Berkowitz, MD, Division of General Internal Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in a release. "These findings suggest residual unmet needs for food-insecure participants and thus have clear implications for health policy." Read more on health disparities.

FDA Approves Implantable Device for Adults with a Certain Type of Hearing Loss
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first implantable hearing device for adults with severe or profound sensorineural hearing loss of high-frequency sounds in both ears, but who can still hear low-frequency sounds with or without a hearing aid. Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common form of hearing loss and can be caused by aging, heredity, exposure to loud noise, drugs that are toxic to the inner ear and certain other illnesses. “Hearing loss greatly impacts the education, employment, and well-being of many Americans,” said Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a release. “This device may provide improved speech recognition for people with this kind of hearing loss, who have limited treatment options.” Read more on technology.

Mar 13 2014
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Crowdfunding for Public Health

With just seven days to go until the announced deadline for its first round of funding, the front runner to reach its goal on UCLA Spark—a new crowdfunding platform hosted by the university—is a public health initiative, the UCLA Sex Squad School Tour 2014. The Squad is a multimedia theatre troupe made up of University of California, Los Angeles students and graduates who talk to high school students about sex and sexual health.

Crowdfunding uses social media to encourage contributions from strangers for projects of all kinds. Sites such as Kickstarter have raised millions of dollars for multiple projects, including one by three U.S. State Department officials who raised enough capital to start their own dress sock business.

UCLA Spark’s projects are way loftier. The four other projects in the first round of funding on the site, which debuted last month, include a program to connect ninth-grade girls with technology, a bus to transport campus volunteers to community service projects, funds to help preserve the Watts Towers, (an iconic Los Angeles monument) and expansion of cancer treatment in Ethiopia.

Nancy Katano, Executive Director of Corporate Foundation and Research Relations at UCLA, says the idea for a crowdfunding platform at the university came about because two things converged: The university began getting faculty and student requests for help funding some very small niche projects—beyond the scope for most grants—and Katano began receiving calls from crowdfunding platforms looking to contract with the university. Katano says using an outside platform would have lost too much money for the projects since the platforms take a fee as well as a percentage of funds raised, so instead the university launched its own platform.

To become a UCLA Spark project, faculty and official student organizations propose projects for funding through an online application and a UCLA vetting committee makes the final decision.

“We’ve set up a whole series of guidelines and then we have a face-to-face meeting for applicants to help them think through how the platform can be effective for them—what’s realistic and what their responsibility is going to be,” said Katano. “With most crowdfunding platforms engagement is key. We ask them about their social media reach, do they use Twitter? Do they use Facebook? Are they comfortable shooting video?"

Read more

Mar 12 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 12

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Robert Wood Johnson and CDC Foundations Launch New Project on Using Law and Policies to Help People Make Healthier Choices
The Robert Wood Johnson and CDC Foundations have announced the launch of a new project to advance discussion about how laws and policies can assist people in making healthier choices. Subject matter experts will work with federal partners to develop 10 to 15 evidence-based reports during the next three years to highlight laws and policies related to specific topic areas within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Healthy People 2020 initiative. Healthy People 2020 is a set of goals and objectives with 10-year targets designed to guide national health promotion and disease prevention efforts aimed at improving the health of all people in the United States.

The new project, which will be led by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) at HHS, will provide practical information to public health officials and associations; health-related industries; legal practitioners; non-profit organizations; policymakers; and individuals about the use of law and policy to address health factors:

  • ODPHP will provide leadership and support for the development of the reports.
  • CDC will provide technical guidance on the development of specific reports and collaborate with public health partners and communities to promote knowledge and understanding of the reports.
  • RWJF will provide public health law and policy expertise.
  • The CDC Foundation will manage administration and implementation of the project and amplify the results to stakeholders through communications efforts.

“The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation believes that law and policy are important levers for building a culture of health in our nation,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We’re pleased to collaborate with leaders in public health and government to focus attention on policies based on the best science to help achieve the national health goals set out in Healthy People 2020—strategies that all states and communities can use to help people live healthier lives.” Read more on prevention.

FDA Approves Marketing of First Migraine Prevention Device
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the marketing of the first device designed to stop migraine headaches before they happen. The preventative treatment is a small, portable prescription device that uses an electrical current to stimulate branches of the trigeminal nerve, which has been associated with migraine headaches. An estimated 10 percent of people suffer from migraines, which if untreated can last from four to 72 hours and lead to nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. In a release, Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said Cefaly “may help patients who cannot tolerate current migraine medications for preventing migraines or treating attacks.” Read more on technology.

HHS: 4.2 Million Have Signed Up for Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act
Just a few weeks before the final deadline of March 31, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced that more than 4.2 million people have enrolled in the Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. Approximately 943,000 enrolled in February. Of the 4,242,300 who have enrolled:

  • 55 percent are female and 45 percent are male;
  • 31 percent are age 34 and under;
  • 25 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34;
  • 63 percent selected a Silver plan (up one percentage point over the prior reporting period), while 18 percent selected a Bronze plan (down one point)
  • 83 percent selected a plan and are eligible to receive Financial Assistance (up one point)

Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Mar 10 2014
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Public Health Campaign of the Month: Save the Fairy Tale Kingdom with Your Toothbrush!

NewPublicHealth continues a new series to highlight some of the best public health education and outreach campaigns every month. Submit your ideas for Public Health Campaign of the Month to info@newpublichealth.org.

Recent dental surveys find that less than half of children in America brush their teeth twice a day and research shows that dental decay is the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States.

To encourage kids to brush their teeth, the Ad Council recently launched a neat mobile app aimed at bringing public service announcements (PSAs) right to where they can be most useful—in this case, the bathroom sink. The new PSA is called “Toothsavers” and it's designed to encourage kids to brush their teeth for two minutes, twice a day.

Toothsavers is available free on the web at 2min2x.org/PlayToothsavers and as a downloadable app for iOS and Android (both smartphones and tablets).

The back story of Toothsavers is that an evil sorceress has cast a wicked spell, leaving everyone’s mouths to rot and be overrun by cavities. Now it's up to little toothbrushers to help Toothy and the Toothsavers save everyone's teeth!

Kids use the app to swipe and tab in order to brush and scrub away the spell for each of the kingdom’s denizens, including the Dragon, Little Red Riding Hood and the Pirate. And for every few days a child brushes their own teeth for two minutes, twice a day, they unlock a new character on the Toothsaver game. Brush for 30 days and kids get the chance to defeat the evil sorceress herself.

Features of the app include:

  • 10 different two-minute animations to add some fun to daily tooth brushing
  • 10 cartoon teeth that move on the screen when activated by a voice
  • An interactive map to chart daily tooth brushing
  • Parents can connect on Facebook and post whenever their child reaches a brushing milestone

Toothsavers is a program of the Partnership for Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives, a coalition of 36 oral health organizations including the American Dental Association. The campaign’s goal is to motivate parents to take action to reduce their children’s risk of oral disease by making sure their kids are brushing their teeth for two minutes, twice a day. Toothsavers is the first mobile app to be entirely created by the Ad Council. “The game represents a huge milestone for us in our efforts to use gaming and mobile technology to effect social change,” said Ellyn Fisher, Vice President, Public Relations and Social Media.

Feb 27 2014
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This App Will Lead You to Water and Let You Drink

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Much of the country is still facing at least a few more weeks of winter weather, so harbingers of spring are especially welcome. In Washington, D.C., one of those signs is an increase in the number of “TapIt” posters on the city’s metro system letting city dwellers and visitors know where they can get clean drinking water throughout the area for their reusable water bottles. TapIt is a six-year-old national network of cafes, coffee shops and some retail stores that offer free drinking water to anyone who asks and brings their own vessel to fill and drink from. Partners that have helped with costs often include local water utility companies.

"This network protects the environment, as well as people’s wallets," said TapIt Campaign Director Will Schwartz in a recent release. "In fact, users could save up to $700 per year if they were to use TapIt instead of buying a bottle of water each day."

Other reasons to actively look for easy access to water in the community include:

  • A 2012 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that replacing sugary drinks with water resulted in a 2 to 2.5 percent weight loss for study participants during a six month clinical trial.
  • In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a parents advisory urging them to make water the primary form of hydration for kids.
  • A 2013 survey published in the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention’s journal Preventing Chronic Disease found that low drinking water intake is common and associated with known unhealthful behaviors such as insufficient physical activity and unhealthy eating.

Local TapIt apps, available via the internet or on Android and iPhone smartphone platforms, fix on a user’s location and display a map of nearby outlets that offer water. Users click on map markers for names of locations, addresses and distances. Information includes beverage specifics such as whether the offered water is filtered, chilled, self-serve, or needs to be requested. For example, at the Birchwood Café in Minneapolis, Minn. consumers help themselves to chilled, filtered tap water from the soda dispenser, while at the Village Bean Co. in Des Moines, Iowa, water drinkers must ask wait staff for water and will be offered room-temperature, non-filtered tap water.

National outlets welcoming TapIt users include REI outdoor clothing retail stores and Whole Food supermarkets.

Also, if you don’t have a computer or smartphone at the ready, many of the water partners post TapIt stickers on storefront windows or doors to let people know they’re invited in for a drink.

>>Bonus Link: Read an FAQ on the TapIt program.

Feb 24 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: February 24

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Under Tobacco Control Act Authority, FDA Orders Stop to Sale, Distribution of Four Tobacco Products
For the first time the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has used its authority under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to order a stop to the continued sale and distribution of four tobacco products. The FDA ruled that Sutra Bidis Red, Sutra Bidis Menthol, Sutra Bidis Red Cone, and Sutra Bidis Menthol Cone were not “substantially equivalent” to products commercially available as of Feb. 15, 2007. The FDA determined that Jash International did not identify a product by which to assess substantial equivalence, as well as other required information. “Companies have an obligation to comply with the law—in this case, by providing evidence to support an SE application,” said Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, in a release. “Because the company failed to meet the requirement of the Tobacco Control Act, the FDA’s decision means that, regardless of when the products were manufactured, these four products can no longer be legally imported or sold or distributed through interstate commerce in the United States.” Read more on tobacco.

NGA Releases Report on Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic
As part of the National Governors Association’s (NGA) 2014 Winter Meeting, NGA Vice Chair Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley have released a report, Reducing Prescription Drug Abuse: Lessons Learned from an NGA Policy Academy, detailing their year-long look on how to reduce the growing epidemic; prescription drug abuse is the United States’ fastest growing drug problem and the second most-common type of drug abuse for youth ages 12-17. Among the findings:

  • Leadership matters
  • Prescribing behavior needs to change
  • Disposal options should be convenient and cost-effective
  • Prescription drug monitoring programs are underused
  • Public education is critical
  • Treatment is essential
  • Data, metrics and evaluation must drive policy and practice

“The abuse of prescription drugs continues to be seen in communities across the nation,” said Hickenlooper. “This initiative helped states develop effective strategies to help decrease the number of individuals who are misusing or abusing prescription drugs and the resulting number of people who are harmed or die.” Read more on prescription drugs.

HHS Issues Proposals for Next Edition of EHR Technology Certification Criteria
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has issued proposals for the next edition of the electronic health record (EHR) technology certification criteria. “The proposed 2015 Edition EHR certification criteria reflect ONC’s commitment to incrementally improving interoperability and efficiently responding to stakeholder feedback,” said Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, national coordinator for health IT. “We will continue to focus on setting policy and adopting standards that make it possible for health care providers to safely and securely exchange electronic health information and for patients to become an integral part of their care team.” Compliance with the 2015 Edition would be voluntary (if EHR developers are in compliance with the 2014 Edition, they would not need to recertify) and the final rule will be issued later this summer. Read more on technology.

Feb 20 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: February 20

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CDC: H1N1 Flu Killing at Epidemic Levels
The H1N1 flu virus has been killing at epidemic levels since mid-January, according to new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While flu is known to disproportionately affect the very young and very old, this strain—also known as the swine flu and the cause of the 2009 global pandemic that killed tens of thousands—has so far caused 243 deaths of residents younger than 65 this year in California alone, with an additional 41 unconfirmed cases. In the 2012-13 season there were 26 deaths at this point and in the 2011-12 season there were nine. According o the CDC the average age of someone diagnosed with flu this season is 28.5 years. “These severe flu outcomes are a reminder that flu can be a very serious disease for anyone, including young, previously healthy adults,” CDC spokesman Jason McDonald said to The Washington Post. Read more on influenza.

Teens Who Text About Condoms, Birth Control More Likely to Use Them
Teens who talk about condoms and other types of birth control over text message and other technology are more likely to use them, according to a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Researchers studied 176 high school juniors and seniors, finding that half of the 64 who reported being sexually active also failed to use condoms consistently. According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, close to 40 percent of the 47 percent of high school students who reported having sex did not use a condom the last time. However, the study found that students who texted or used other private electronic technology to discuss condoms or other forms of birth control were approximately four times more likely to use them. It also found that the odds of consistently using condoms doubled among students reporting discussions of pregnancy or sexual limits. "Although prior research and media attention has focused on the risks of technology use, like sexting, we found that adolescents might also use electronic tools to communicate about ways they might promote their sexual health," said study lead author Laura Widman, who studies adolescent sexuality at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "It's not all about risky behavior. It might be another way that teens can have these conversations that can be a little bit awkward.” Read more on sexual health.

Study: Average Obese Woman Gets Only One Hour of Vigorous Exercise Each Year
The average obese woman in the United States gets only one hour of vigorous exercise each year, and the average obese man gets only 3.6 hours, according to a new study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The study utilized the results of a 2005-2006 government survey of adults aged 20 to 74, which covered areas such as weight, diet and sleep patterns of the nearly 2,600 adults and use accelerometer devices to track their movements. The study defined "vigorous" exercise as fat-burning activities such as jogging and jumping rope. “They're living their lives from one chair to another," said Edward Archer, a research fellow with the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "We didn't realize we were that sedentary. There are some people who are vigorously active, but it's offset by the huge number of individuals who are inactive." According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in three U.S. adults is obese, which increases the risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and stroke, diabetes and some cancers. Read more on obesity.

Feb 19 2014
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Recommended Reading: Rural Emergency Care Gets a Boost from Tele-Health

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On a busy night at the Stamford (CT) Hospital ER on the snowy East Coast this past holiday weekend, wait times for emergencies were just minutes thanks to a system that has a technician take vital signs within moments of patients walking through the entrance. Those metrics are passed to the medical staff to review in a room just a couple of steps from the reception area which, through a back door, opens onto several emergency suites where treatment can begin almost instantaneously. Contrast that with recent reports of hours-long waits, reduced staff and insufficient equipment at many rural hospitals, which often face budget, staff and equipment constraints.

One solution may be sharing those resources, according to a new study in Health Affairs by researchers at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. The researchers evaluated a tele-emergency service in the upper Midwest that provides 24/7 connection between an urban “hub” emergency department and 71 remote hospitals. At any time, clinical staff at the remote hospitals can press a button for an immediate audio/video connection to the tele-emergency hub Emergency Department.

A survey of the staff members at the rural hospitals found that 95 percent of those responding found that that the relationship significantly improve care for their patients in several ways:

  • Improved quality of care
  • Provided clinical second opinions for the rural medical staff
  • Increased the use of evidence based treatment

“Tele-emergency improves patient care through integrated services that deliver the right care at the right time and the right place,” says Keith Mueller, PHD, head of the Department of Health Management and Policy and lead author of the report. “Our country’s health care system is in a massive state of change, and it’s through services such as this that we’ll be able to address patient need and assist in the financial concerns of smaller medical care units.”

Read the Health Affairs abstract.

Feb 10 2014
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Recommended Reading: Adapting Crisis Hotlines to Texting Generations

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In reaching teens, crisis hotlines have had to adapt not only to what they say, but how they say it. While counseling teens by phone is still the dominant method of communication, texting has become a popular way for teens to contact crisis centers in their times of need. A recent story in The New York Times takes a look at what Crisis Text Line and other centers have accomplished in the field of helping teens using their preferred medium of communication.

For troubled teens, texting offers a critical element of privacy if they feel threatened by someone nearby and allows them to look and feel more natural if they are in a public space. Benefits for crisis counselors include the ability to deal with more than one person at a time and to introduce experts into the conversation without a lapse in contact. Organizations such as Crisis Text Line that offer text counseling report receiving messages from teens who might not have otherwise contacted the hotline by phone. People who text hotlines for help receive the same services as callers—risk assessment, emotional validation and problem solving—but the interactions are often longer and more direct than phone calls.

In addition to offering an effective way to communicate with teens, texting provides data and trends about people in different types of crises. “My dream is that public health officials will use this data and tailor public policy solutions around it,” says Nancy Lublin, founder of Crisis Text Line. The organization plans to compile the data and make it available to the public this spring.

The use of texting has extended beyond crisis centers. The four largest phone companies in the United States recently promised to make 911 texting possible by May for local response services that request the option.

Read more at The New York Times.